By Poppy Tohill
Hot on the heels of their 2nd single, Sparkle Shimmer Shine, Stormporter, the New Zealand band of Brits,Tones Thorburn and Tim Allen are continuing to whip up a storm around their new(ish) home city ofAuckland. Ahead of taking to the stage for a Brit-inspired night of music at Backbeat, I had the privilege of sitting down with both Thorburn and Allen for a chat about their musical backgrounds, the beginnings of Stormporter and what's in store for the band's future. Cracking jokes, dressed in suit jackets, with long hanging pistol and dog tag necklaces, and of course their extremely thick British accents, I have no doubt that New Zealand will soon get swept up into their magical storm of soulful branded indie pop.
With Tones Thorburn originating from Scotland and Tim Allen from Northern England, the interview began with the two of them explaining the story behind how they met one another and came to form Stormporter.
Tim: Tones had a band and needed a singer. So I applied, but it didn't really work out because it was just the wrong genre, I think. But we hit it off as friends and I supported his band a few times and he really just helped me get into the music business here in New Zealand.
Tones: Yeah I probably met Tim for the first time when he'd only been in the country for about two weeks. I've been here a lot longer of course, but like he said, he'd come to audition and it didn't really work out, but it wasn't too long after that, my band actually split up.
Tim: Then once I'd heard they'd split up, I spent a few weeks wondering if I should email him or not, but then I eventually did, and now here we are! (laughs).
Do you both come from musical backgrounds and families?
Tim: My dad is a musician. When I did my solo album he was drumming for me for a while. But he did quite good stuff. He had a record deal and some things that didn't work out. The old cliche thing in the 80s (laughs). We headlined at a few clubs, so I've been around music all my life really.
Tones: Me, probably not so much. I wouldn't say there's any musicians in my family, but my mum was a tap dancer and she used to get up and sing some old hits from the 50s at bars, she was a better singer than me anyway (laughs). My dad also used to write poetry. He was never published, he did it more for just his own pleasure, but he's always had a way with words.
Prior to Stormporter, were either of you working on other musical projects?
Tones: Yeah, my previous band in New Zealand, ‘Beautiful Collision' which was the band Tim came and auditioned for, had been together for about 4 years and we did pretty well. We didn't actually get a single out there or anything as such, but we were gigging a lot. I've also been in lots of covers bands and I played in a band back in Scotland with a long term school friend. But this time with Stormporter is a bit different because we have songs and videos out there, so second time round you definitely learn a lot!
Tim: I started a songwriting project with my best friend at school when we were about 15 years old. So we were a duo and we got interviewed and played live on BBC Radio and then we formed a band called ‘The Little Kings' where we played Leeds festival, and we went on to play London a few times, and then that sort of fell apart. So I carried on as a solo artist and released two EPs and then I came over here and released an album. I didn't really do many gigs, I was just itching to get in a band, but I didn't know how... then Tones helped me out massively.
How would you best describe Stormporter's sound to someone who had never heard it?
Tim: We call it 'Soulful Indie'.
Tones: It's hard to categorise, and I know you do need to categorise it, especially when you're applying for opportunities, they want you to put it in this box. We've definitely got the Brit thing coming through, so it's kind of soul, indie pop with a bit of rock in there as well.
Tim: The setlist, for tonight is structured to half and half. It's like rather than be all fucking soulful, pop or rock, it all mixes and blends together.
What's the story behind the name- ‘Stormporter?'
Tim: I think I was at the bus stop and it was pissing down with rain and, we'd been through heaps of names and he (pointing at Tones) was coming up with some ridiculous names, (both laughed). My dad used to say this old phrase- ‘Girls or anyone who sticks around at any point in a storm is a keeper,' and all of a sudden for some reason I just started thinking of that, and I thought of ‘Stormporter,' which I thought sounded alright, so I texted Tones...
Tones: I was driving during that time throughout the storm and I saw the text and thought, Stormporter, that's a good one! We looked at The Stormporters or Stormporters, but The Stormporters sounded like we were some sort of super heroes, (laughs) and we thought it was stronger just as one word. It immediately made me think too about music calming you through the storm. Life's a bitch and there's always something or someone that gets you through the storm. So then the name just stuck and it was great, because we didn't want to be like ‘Bear Meets Wolf' or anything like that (both laughed).
In terms of musical influences, who are some of your biggest inspirations musically?
Tim: My dad really was a big inspiration to me, because he was a songwriter. He didn't actually get into songwriting until quite late because whenhe was in a band in the late 80s, the keyboard player wrote all the songs and he was just the singer. He played in loads of covers bands and he started writing in his 30s, and released an album when he was 40. Then he toured Italy and signed a record deal. So he'd been playing music since he was about 14 but didn't start actually writing until much later on. So I think he encouraged me to start writing right away, and I think I wrote my first song when I was about 8, but my first proper song came when I was about 15. So my Dad and The Beatles obviously, because my dad gave me all the Beatles records. Oasis because 1995 was a massive explosion, because all the music before that was shit really, it was just rubbish. There was a load of shit music for ages and then Oasis and all these other bands started coming and it turned it around. My dad was a massive Neil Finn and Tim Finn fans also so I grew up with all their music too. Actually 2004 we went to watch the Finn brothers at the apollo and it was massive!
Tones: Brit Pop like Blur and all the rest of it really. I used to be into the heavier stuff in my earlier days, like Black Sabbath, AC/DC and all the rest of it, so I guess I do have a bit more of a rock influence, but again the stuff Tim reeled off as well were all influences for me as too. I was a huge Muse fan and a bit of a Radiohead fan. When I moved over here though, the first thing I heard was Crowded House and the Finns and I just though they were absolutely brilliant. Another one for me is Incubus, I'm a huge fan of theirs. I like a bit of drama in my music, so my songwriting tends to be a bit like that too.
You've released two great singles along with two fantastic videos already, can you tell us a little bit about ‘Find Yourself' and ‘Sparkle Shimmer Shine' -what the song's are about, etc.
Tim: ‘Find Yourself' - yeah I wrote that. Tones came up with the guitar parts in that, so I wouldn't say we're like Lennon and McCartney because they used to write on their own, but they would both bring something to it and that's what we do. Tones came up with the ideas for the ‘woo woos,' so its all in their. The same with ‘Sparkle' really, it's all his song mostly, I just came up with a few little parts. Once we're on the Stormporter table it's ours. But yeah, the idea behind Find Yourself is quite a sad story really. A friend of a friend back home died, and I had a recording studio in my own house, only a little demo thing and a few people had died in the last ten years- young lads really, and I thought, fucking hell- these people are lost. People need to find themselves and never let go.. So i just sat there and the whole song came out pretty quickly.
Tones: Yeah it's same with me, the ideas for songs sometimes come really quickly. I actually wrote Sparkle a couple of years ago, but I'd never found the right voice for it until Tim came along. In my last band we had two guys who just couldn't handle it and bring to it what was really needed. So I put it in the cupboard. Then when I got together with Tim, we pulled out the song and he put a bit of melody into it and I just loved it. For me, the song is a love story, it's a romance. My daughter is also in the video which it makes it even more special. She plays the lead female and the guy is her boyfriend, whose she's just gotten engaged to in the last week actually!
What is your usual songwriting process?
Tim: A lot of our songs have been written separately. We have written one song, where literally Tones had an idea with no lyrics, just chords, and he gave it to me, but for about two weeks I couldn't think of anything. Then I was actually cutting some wood down in the basement at work and all of a sudden I thought fucking hell- and just wrote it all down like that. Then we sat down in my house and Tones came up with a few lyrics and we stuck it all together and its one of our only 50/50 songs I'm pretty sure. I've tried writing with other people in previous bands that I've been in and it doesn't always work, so its really cool to know that we're able to sit down and write together if we want to.
The process is always different for me though. Sometimes I can sit down with a guitar and it will all come out, or other times I'll just come up with a riff which may end up sitting around for weeks or even months. Like ‘Find Yourself,' I had the riff but nothing else for quite a while. I don't really have any formula or structure, it's just when it comes, it comes. Sometimes 4 or 5 songs will all come at once and then I won't write for another 6 months.
Tones: I think this might sound a bit hippyish, but with songwriting for me, I don't sit down and force myself to write lyrics or chord progressions. Some artists will just write and write and write in one session and it will come, but for me it's in there and if I get the inspiration and I feel there's something there, I think oh shit, I've got to get this down! I'll just sit down with the guitar and I won't even know what the first chord is going to be, I'll just start playing and then suddenly it's all there. For some people a real structure might work, but not for Tim & I. It comes from within!(laughs).
Tim: There's a cool story about the Eagles, and Jackson Browne who used to live with them. Apparently Browne just used to sit for hours and hours until something came. I don't have the patience for that! (laughs).
What was it like working with Ben King?
Tim: Awesome!! I've done a lot of recording since about the age of 16 in London with a friend. Ben King's only the third producer I've ever worked with and I'm not comparing the three, but King is just brilliant. It was just a really good experience, and he's going to be our producer for as long as Stormporter's alive... as long as he wants to! (laughs).
Tones: He's exactly what you need. You need a producer that understands you. For me, I was a huge Goldenhorse fan and we were looking for a good producer, so I basically just googled New Zealand producers, and Ben kept on sticking in the back of my mind. He's so grounded and we thought, will he like us, will he want to work with us? so I sent the demos off to him and he got so excited, and we just clicked. Lots of magic happened in the studio. I wasn't really sure how it was going to work out at first, but after sending him the music and getting in the studio, everything worked out fantastically. He really helped me with my backing vocals too. I had this backing vocal idea in mind with a couple of songs, and I don't believe I've got a great voice, but Ben really made me believe in myself and gave me more confidence. I hear things now that I didn't hear before and a lot of the credit for that goes to him.
Tim: It was the best thing that we did really! We're hopefully heading back to the studio soon to do an EP with Ben too, that's the plan anyway!
You've had the opportunity already to work with some pretty talented musicians and producers, who is someone you'd both love to work with some day given the chance?
Tim: It'd have to be Neil and Tim Finn really. Because they hugely influenced my dad, I think their influence really rubbed off on me too.
Tones: It's crazy because even if we were back in the UK we'd probably still say the Finns. They're all such prolific songwriters, there's so much respect in the music industry for those guys.
Obviously the British music scene and the NZ scene are quite different from each other, how would you compare the two?
Tim: It depends where you go really. The music scene in my home town is absolutely rubbish, but then you go half an hour down the road intoManchester and it's excellent. There's nothing like it in the world. I've been going out a lot here watching bands recently though and I just think the quality of musicians is a lot better over here. I think because the vast amount of music in England is punk these days, and people in New Zealand seem to be taking the time to really learn their instruments properly. Maybe I'm just getting older, but there's definitely some incredibly talented young musicians in New Zealand who can play extremely well.
Tones: I think in terms of sound as well it really comes down to culture. While in some ways there's a lot of Brits and other cultures here, it is quite different. There's different history and all the rest of it. The UK has had the Beatles and some more of those iconic bands too so obviously that's going to come through a lot in the music over there.
Tim: Another thing that strikes me about the scene here, is you'll see a drummer like Wayne Bell from the Bads drumming with Tim Finn at the Womad music festival, and then suddenly the next night you go to the Portland Public House and he's drumming with a different band there. You just wouldn't get that in the UK. Like if there was an artist playing at Glastonbury, you wouldn't see them the next night performing in the local pub" (laughs). "I think that's a massive bonus about the industry and scene here.
Is the band going to stay based in New Zealand, or can you see yourselves heading back to the UK and living over there again?
Tim: Naah! We're Aucklanders now. I have a son here, but not just that. We're quite a new band and we haven't done too many gigs yet, and we've been getting some nice feed back. I think we want to go and tour England, Australia and all that, but we want to base ourselves here. A lot of bands still do that though. They get big in Auckland and then go across to Melbourne and I think the music scene suffers from that, so why not stay here!?
Tones: I'm definitely here forever! I've been here for a long time.
Talking about travelling, do you have any upcoming shows that people can look out for?
Tim: We've got a appearance on the Good Morning tv show coming up soon, so you can keep an eye on that!
Tones: We've also been talking about possibly starting to tour the rest of the North Island, perhaps get out of Auckland. Because there's only so many gigs you can do in Auckland, and It's bloody hard to get people off their butts, out of the house and to a gig these days. So we kind of want to get out and go play some shows in the Coromandel, Hamilton, Tauranga and maybe Wellington too. It'd be great to get down to the South Island at some stage too, but at the moment it's just too bloody expensive!
Tim: But I think once we've done an EP, we'll put together a proper release tour to launch it!
Tones: Yeah, if we can get together and create the EP and have a reason to tour, that'll be great. If we have something solid to promote and offer to everyone, that's the catch. Because people really need to hear your music before they'll consider coming out to see you, and if you don't have anything they can listen to, well it's pretty useless.
What can fans expect from your live performance?
Tones: Lots of energy. For our launch show, we got a review where there was a few comments on Tim's crazy dancing on stage, so if you're lucky he might do a bit of that. There's nothing contrived about our shows though, we just get up there perform our songs, and like to have a good time.
What's next for Stormporter... EP? Album? Tour?
Tones: We're looking at what song's we're going to put on the EP at the moment. We've got a lot of songs and we have to condense it down to about 4, 5 or maybe 6 tracks. Sparkle & Find Yourself might have to end up on there as well, which makes it even harder. We'll probably argue a few times and fall out," (laughs), "but we'll get Ben involved too and ask him which tracks he thinks should go on it. We don't have a set schedule that we have to go by either. Ben's itching to get us in the studio though, so I think we'll get a couple of gigs out of the way and then get into the studio and working on the EP. Hopefully we'll be able to get it out this year, but who knows. It may even turn into an album!
Last but not least - Where do you hope to see Stormporter in three years time?
Tim: Busking on K Road (they both burst into laughter). Kidding... hopefuly we'll be playing some gigs in Melbourne, Sydney and do the whole Australasia thing. Then head back to London and do some gigs there, in Manchester and New Castle would be nice too. Even Japan maybe, who knows... anywhere!!
Tones: We're both seriously committed. We really want to take this as far as we can take it, but in all honesty with all the experiences we've had combined, we know it's a tough game out there, so even if we're just still together in three years that'd be great. But basically if we can get to America, the UK and all the rest of it, that would be cool!
Tim: We're not young kids running around saying- we want to take over the world and be famous, we just want to play music and do what we love. That's it. We're well-rounded british class guys (they both burst into laughter once more, as the interview drew to an end and the first band for the night of entertainment ahead took to the stage).